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The [Deb Mell] Papers

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel [Wednesday] named state Rep. Deb Mell to succeed her retiring father, longtime 33rd Ward Ald. Richard Mell, on the Chicago City Council," the Tribune reports.

"During brief remarks introducing Rep. Mell, Emanuel referenced the possibility that her appointment will be seen as a case of nepotism. 'Others will say what they will, but while it would not be fair to appoint Deb just because her name is Mell, it would have been equally unfair to her constituents and the city to refuse to appoint her because her last name is Deb Mell,' Emanuel said."

Perhaps, but what Rahm left out is that Dick Mell chose to retire in the middle of his term to ensure just this outcome - which is certainly unfair. And Rahm also left out the fact that daddy Mell engineered his daughter's election into the statehouse to begin with, as well as a job with a "politically connected" landscaping firm before that. Has Deb Mell ever truly earned any job she's had? Let's take a look at that question and more.


"Deb Mell, 44, is a middle child who studied political science at Cornell College, a private liberal arts school in Iowa," the Tribune account reports.

"She moved to San Francisco, went to culinary school and worked as a pastry chef. Eventually she returned home and labored for a while at a politically connected landscaping firm."

I don't want to make an assumption here, but Illinois is the only state where being a pastry chef named Mell qualifies someone to work at a politically connected landscaping firm.


Having pastry chef and landscaping on her resume (and, to be fair, gay rights activism), Deb Mell announced in the summer of 2007 that she wanted to run for the state House of Representatives.

"Deborah Mell , 35, is a project manager at Christy Weber Landscapes and a lesbian activist," Carol Marin wrote at the time for the Sun-Times.

"Last week, at a meeting of the Mayor's Advisory Council on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, she declared her intention, telling people at that meeting she was going to run in 2008 for state representative of the 40th District, a seat held for the last 10 years by Richard Bradley.

"Bradley, a top Streets and Sanitation payroller, represents the Northwest Side of Chicago where Deborah Mell grew up, where Blagojevich served and where Dick Mell 's endorsement has been crucial to his re-election. Bradley has given no indication that he's ready to step aside.

"So is her dad going to throw Bradley overboard?

"Can I call my communications person first?" Deborah Mell said with a laugh on the phone last week.

Ha ha ha! So funny. Because it was true.

As Ben Joravsky brilliantly reported in the Reader, in Mell Family Politics: Richard Mell strikes a deal to push his daughter Deborah into the statehouse - and independent-leaning Iris Martinez out, that's exactly what happened.


"Reminiscing with reporters this month about how he used to be able to do more for constituents, Richard Mell bragged that there was a time he could get college kids overnight jobs as bridge tenders so they could get paid while catching some sleep," the Trib reports.

(See also Dick Mell Misses The Old Ways.)

"Asked what she thought about her father's defense of nepotism, Deb Mell said she hadn't heard his exact quotes on the subject."



"I think there's a new way to do business here in the city of Chicago, and I'm that new way, and I'm excited," she said.

Deb Mell is the New Way of doing business in Chicago. It may look a lot like the Old Way, but the New Way come with an additional level of pretending.


See also Once Again, Deb Mell Puts Family First.


Back to the Tribune:

"Asked how she'll differ from her father, Mell said she will be a more independent alderman than he was. Asked if that meant Richard Mell wasn't independent enough, she said that's not what she meant. Emanuel aides ended questioning shortly thereafter."


She meant she'll appear to be more independent than her father. That's the New Way of modern Democrats, for whom appearances matter above everything else.


When Sandi Jackson stepped down from her aldermanic seat, Rahm bragged that he had "devised is a transparent, open process" to replace her.

And when he named Natashia Holmes to Jackson's seat, he bragged again that the appointment represented the "writing of a new chapter for the city."

From the Trib:

"While Emanuel and Holmes held a news conference two days before her confirmation vote, the mayor didn't announce Deb Mell's appointment until a couple of hours before the council meeting and didn't take questions, separately, until later."

No one cares more about appearances than Rahm - even if he so often appears to be a vindictive little prick.


Forty-eight candidates applied for Jackson's job. Only a dozen applied for Mell's.


From the Trib:

"The mayor went on to talk about Mell's good work as a legislator, saying they have disagreed on legislation, 'and that's the type of alderman I want, somebody who has the independence and the strength and the character to speak up and speak out when she believes in something.'"

Unless that alderman's name is Scott Waguespack.

See The Yes Men for more on Rahm's love of independent aldermen.


"Deb Mell also burnished her credentials as a 'reformer' by chairing the House Committee hearing that forced the release of ousted Metra executive Alex Clifford's explosive report that included patronage allegations against. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago)."

I'm glad the Trib put "reformer" in quote marks. Most accurate reporting on this topic yet.


Quick name Deb Mell's top three reforms.

That's what I thought.


I'm not sure how chairing a house committee hearing of committee you are the chair of "burnishes" someone's reform credentials. Instead, I'm wondering where she and the committee were all these years when Metra was imploding - not to mention the never-ending dysfunction of the CTA.

Oh, this just in.


So while Mell was chairing a state House committee hearing about allegations that a powerful politician tried to engineer a job for a pal, Deb Mell's father was engineering a job for her.


Even if Mell was the most qualified person to be the new 33rd Ward alderman, as if there aren't dozens of hard-working community leaders unencumbered by years of political affiliations to choose from, her pursuit of and acceptance of the job outside of the electoral process only deepens - if it's even possible anymore - the cynicism surrounding politics generally and politics in Chicago in particular. You've just added to the problem, Deb. Out of personal convenience and ambition.

And for Rahm to say that voters can vote her out in two years is an insult to everyone who knows that Dick Mell took this course exactly because of the power of incumbency.

If Deb Mell had any political courage and independence, she would have said "Not this way. I'll run for it fair and square."

But then, she wouldn't be the kind of person whom Rahm would support.


"Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd), whose son and namesake served with Deb Mell in the Illinois House, confronted the elephant in the room during Mell's confirmation hearing," the Sun-Times reports.

"It's just the way life is. A lot of times, people's children follow them in their careers - even with the media. I've been interviewed by two Jordans, the father and the daughter; two Ponces, the father and the son. I've seen the Jiggetts on TV. I've seen the Weigels on TV over the years. And I respect that. They do a tremendous job."

True enough. For example:

"Shteir's main complaint . . . is that the book amounts to '[Neil] Steinberg's defense for having pulled strings to get his brother a job at the county treasurer's office' and a celebration of the nepotism, 'favors done and returned' and petty conflicts of interest that are such a part of our civic culture."

Pulling strings to get his brother a job at the county treasurer's office would have cost Steinberg his job at just about any other newspaper in the country. But this is Chicagotown, Jake.


"Ever the historian," WBEZ reports, "Ald. Ed Burke even spouted off all the family connections in the City Council's history, including his own, adding that he couldn't think of anything that would 'make someone more proud than to succeed their parent in an office that that parent had held.'"

How 'bout someone who didn't?


"The lone 'no' vote in the council came from Ald. Bob Fioretti (2).

"I do know Deb Mell, and I like Deb Mell. And I like what she stands for. But we are not a monarchy, we are a democracy, so let's start acting like it," Fioretti said.


"If you just look at the record, the results of that record and what it's drawn, Deb Mell has earned the right to be the next alderman," Rahm said, according to the Sun-Times's account.

Really? Nobody "earns the right" to political office. It's not something to be bestowed by the system itself. Instead, all of us have the right to run for office - and be considered fairly. In an alternate universe, I know, but how easily we forget.


And what's so great about her record?


"Emanuel bristled when asked whether he was rewarding Richard Mell for disenfranchising voters by waiting to retire until the mid-term benchmark when a special election was no longer required."

Again, that's the first way this deal was wired. Deb Mell's credentials become irrelevant after that.


From the Beachwood vault, January 4, 2013:

"Sources said [Deb Mell] was initially reluctant to accept a mayoral appointment for fear of following in the footsteps of other family political dynasties, including the Madigans, the Lipinskis and the Hyneses. But sources said Dick Mell has convinced his daughter that it would be best to get a leg up on the competition."

I'm sure Deb was absolutely torn.

"[T]he rookie legislator has already shown herself to be a bit of a mercenary," I wrote in 2009.

"Before even taking her seat and serving a single minute in the state House seat that she won in an election engineered for her by her father, Ald. Dick Mell, she contemplated running for the congressional opening left by the departure of Rahm Emanuel from 5th district."


And remember this?

"Deborah Mell - a Northwest Side state rep - is at risk of getting knocked off the ballot in her re-election bid because she is allegedly not registered to vote at the address listed on her nominating petitions. Oops!"


Then there was her priceless tweet from 2010 made even more priceless when sister Patti retweeted it:

"Quinn not living in mansion as promised - 2:36 PM May 26th via Retweeted by pblagojevich and 2 others"

A valid point if only it didn't come from the women whose brother-in-law governed the state from his dining room table in Ravenswood - or the bathroom when he was hiding from his budget director.


Finally, back to the Trib:

"Richard Mell, who as 33rd Ward committeeman will have the biggest say in naming his daughter's replacement, has floated the idea of picking his aldermanic aide Jaime Andrade."

So it's a two-fer. Happy retirement, Dick!


Comments welcome.


1. From Jon Markel:

Thanks for running this comprehensive history of Deb Mell's electoral history. I was one of the applicants who scrambled to get an application and three letters of recommendation together all while on vacation. Deb Mell presumably had an advanced notice of the retirement announcement to prepare her submission in a more relaxed fashion. The idea that Deb Mell is the most experienced candidate is only true if you use a very specific definition of the term. Personally, I have volunteered my time over the last few years to lead the 33rd Ward Advisory Council and with the Albany Park Neighborhood Council on tenant rights and preventing foreclosures in the 33rd ward. This is in addition to my day job working on environmental conservation at the Field Museum and a small photography business run with my wife. There are other applicants who are long-time civil servants, members of local school councils, neighborhood organizations, and are experienced staff members with other aldermen. None of these valuable things appear on Deb Mell's resume.

I am disappointed in Deb Mell for an additional reason not mentioned in your post. For all of her faults and foibles, she was a passionate and eloquent voice in the General Assembly for equal marriage that she has chosen to silence. While I have voiced my criticism on her handling of other issues (Rod vote, inaction on pension reform, silence from her campaign when her opponent's sexual orientation was attacked, mass transit funding cuts, etc.) I always made it a point to tell her that she had my full support on equal marriage in Illinois. She walked away from the fight before it was finished. That is not how a leader behaves.

Interestingly enough, her father voted against the recognition of same-sex relationships by the City of Chicago when it was introduced by Mayor Washington. All must have been forgiven considering the strings he pulled to get her to where she is today and that the No vote probably had more to do with racism and opposing reform than anything related to recognizing LGBT rights.


Posted on July 25, 2013

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